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Jesus's Name Will Be Extolled

June 19, 2022


Pastor Peder Kling


Sermon Passage: Acts 19:8–20

The sermon begins at minute 50:10. Unmute to listen. 

Audio Only (with the Old Testament Scripture Reading)

Good Stories, Good Victories

This morning’s story has an incredible way of capturing our imagination and attention, doesn’t it? It’s a story ripe with excitement. In it, we see God doing extraordinary miracles with handkerchiefs and aprons. We learn about “itinerant Jewish exorcists”, to which many of us might say “I never knew there was such a thing!”. There’s perhaps a touch of jealousy and rivalry in this story, as those itinerant exorcists thought it wise to contend with Paul’s popularity by appealing to Paul’s God. Every good story needs to have some contention, jealousy, and rivalry. Yet, every good story needs to come to a glorious ending when goodness and truth prevail in an unexpected turn of events. I hardly expect Paul was thinking he’d ever see in ministry what he saw that day—a group of magicians gathering together to publicly burn their spell books, in humble faith and repentance before Jesus.


I love stories like these—good stories, good victories. God always has a way of overcoming evil—and, all forms of evil. I don’t say this as a “health, wealth, and prosperity” teacher, or as a motivational speaker. This is truth. This is our God and his ways, folks. You’re either with God—repenting with a radical repentance for a radical salvation and victory over darkness—or your left to yourself before incredible powers and forces of darkness. You’re either with God—protected under his unshakable kingdom of peace and righteousness—or, your left to yourself in a miserable situation. 


At this point in Acts, during Paul’s third and final missionary journey, we will continue to see how God overcomes evil in every circumstance, for his church and his glory. He is committed to using every circumstance—every resource at his disposal—to strengthen his growing church. 


Last week, Paul set out on his third journey “strengthening all the disciples” (18:23). So specifically, in that previous passage from last week, we saw how God strengthens his church through his ministers. He himself (1) raises devoted ministers like Paul and Apollos, who he uses to (2) repeat the gospel of salvation in new and fresh ways every week, (3) correct errors, (4) instill confidence within God’s people by refuting arguments against Christianity (as Apollos did), and (5) administer the blessing of baptism, through the Holy Spirit. That’s how God strengthens his church through his ministers. 


This week, it might seem that Jesus is strengthening his church through his enemies. These itinerate Jewish exorcists were committed to use a sort of magic in order to cast demons out of people, even invoking Jesus’s name so as to manipulate his power to their own gain. As we well know, this didn’t work out so well. Not only did their enterprise leave them beat up and naked, it also left Christ’s church strengthened. This is made clear to us in verse 20 where we learn that through all this, “So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily”. Or, you could back up a few verses to verse 17, where “fear fell upon them all [Jew and Greek], and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled.” The risen Jesus can use anything—even his enemies—to strengthen and build up his church, and to ensure his name will be extolled.


In a time of this country’s (and even this world’s) politics, it’s really good to know this, isn’t it? It’s good to read and dig into stories like this, as they remind us that goodness and truth—that is, God himself—wins in the end. There are rich layers to these kinds of stories when we dig into them. 


This morning, we’ll see that our risen Lord can use everything under his sovereign hand in order to overcome any trouble, or obstacle, that confronts his glory and his church. If you’re looking for a firm outline for this morning, you could say we’ll see Jesus overcome three different troubles, or obstacles, which threaten his kingdom and his glory. He first overcomes a certain trouble with the Jews in the synagogue. Then, he overcomes another trouble with the exorcists. Then finally, Jesus overcomes the widespread trouble of unbelief. So, again, our Lord overcomes (1) trouble with the Jews, (2) trouble with the exorcists, and then (3) trouble with unbelief—and, as we’ll see, he even uses his enemies under his sovereign hand to do this.


The Trouble with the Jews (With a Quick Parenthesis)

Look at verses 8–10 with me, where this whole story opens up for us. This is a very brief summary of Paul’s first two years in Ephesus. In verse 8, we see that Paul started his ministry in Ephesus where he always started—in the Jewish synagogue. There, he “spoke boldly for three months until he saw some resistance that drove him to “the hall of Tyrannus”, where he continued speaking for two years (verses 9–10). We’ll talk in a moment about the specific trouble which drove Paul to the hall of Tyrannus—but, I think it’s fair to take a quick parenthesis and realize that this is all covering a long period of time, here. Let’s just get our bearings, real quick, in terms of Paul spending this length of time in Ephesus.


A Parenthesis: What’s with Ephesus and Corinth?

In all—if you take his three months in the synagogue, then two additional years in the hall of Tyrannus, and then the whole affair of the riot (in next week’s passage), Paul spent about 3 full years in Ephesus. That’s how Paul describes the length of his time in Ephesus later, in Acts chapter 20 (verse 31). That’s a long stay, three years. Out of all his missionary journeys, these three years in Ephesus are the longest Paul stayed in any city. Corinth was the other city he spent a significant amount of time at (almost two years). From these two cities—Ephesus and Corinth—Paul ministered and spread the gospel for a total of 5 cumulative years. These two cities seemed to be on Paul’s mind as strategic places for spreading Christ’s kingdom. Why is that? Why not Athens (for example)? Or, why didn’t he just make a bee-line to Rome?


You could make a plausible argument that he saw Ephesus and Corinth to be strategic because both were the capital cities of their region. It’s where the seat of the regional government was—so, powerful and influential people where in these cities who influenced culture and society. They could declare and protect Christianity as an acceptable practice—something that basically happened in both cities. Yet more than this, it’s plausible that Paul saw an opportunity in both cities to spread the gospel because both cities were important port cities of trade and tourism. As people came in and out of these cities in the masses, they would hear Paul’s preaching and bring Jesus back to their hometowns. So the fact that these were centers of politics, culture, and trade very likely drew Paul to these cities for a strategic work of the gospel.


Yet, there’s more to it than that. His longer stays in Corinth and Ephesus were occasioned by the Lord Jesus Christ opening a door for him to minister there, calling him to stay there. If you recall from our story two weeks ago, Paul was terrified to enter Corinth—we don’t know why, for sure. I gave a few possible answers two weeks ago. Yet he tells us in First Corinthians 2:3 that when he arrived in Corinth, he came “in weakness and in fear and much trembling”. He’s referring to genuine fear, there. Something encouraged and strengthened Paul for a year and a half of ministry in Corinth—and, it was Jesus himself. In Acts 18:9–10, Jesus shows up to Paul in a vision and told him “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, 10 for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” Jesus promised Paul that his presence would remain upon Paul, that no one would harm Paul, and that Jesus had already claimed “many in this city” to be his own. Paul needed only to keep on speaking, and Jesus’s people would certainly respond in faith. That’s cause enough for a longer stay.


But what about Ephesus? Sure, it’s another port city. Sure, it’s another capital city whose political situation could end up helping Paul. Yet, how did Jesus strengthen Paul, and open a door for him in Ephesus, that Paul would stay for three whole years? One person I read mentioned that this was certainly the most fruitful place of ministry for Paul in all his three journeys. What would make us think that? This was a wicked city—just like Corinth, as we described two weeks ago. It was filled with immorality. Corinth was filled with sexual sins (which Jesus overcame for his church). Ephesus was filled with witchcraft and demonic activity. That’s where the fascination of witchcraft comes into play, in this story. That’s why Paul closes his letter to the Ephesians with reference to the armor of God. Paul says, there in Ephesians 6—


we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God


That’s Ephesus. That’s speaking Ephesian Christians’ language. Does this seem like a good place for Paul to stick around, for three years? What happens when he’s there? 


Remember verse 11–12 of our passage. “And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them.” This was happening in Ephesus. What do you suppose Jesus was saying, by doing these things through Paul in Ephesus? Jesus was saying that his kingdom is sovereign over every trouble, every obstacle, every force of evil that would ever dare to stand against him. 


Jesus opens doors for gospel ministry, folks. We’d do well to keep our eyes open, keep on speaking, keep obeying and serving him, and give the results over to Jesus who sovereignly establishes his kingdom as he pleases. It’s amazing to see what Paul says to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians—a letter he wrote during this stay in Ephesus. While in Ephesus, he kept the Corinthian church ever on his mind, praying for them and longing to be with them. Yet, he wouldn’t leave his post at Ephesus. He tells the Corinthians in First Corinthians 16:7–9, 


7 I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits. 8 But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, 9 for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.


A wide door. I love that. Jesus had swung open a door so wide for gospel ministry in Ephesus, that Paul had to stay despite the “many adversaries” he mentions in that verse. What was that door? I don’t know, maybe—possibly—“extraordinary miracles” so that “even handkerchiefs” that touched his skin were carried to the sick for healing.


John Stott, in his commentary on Acts, says that “In Corinth Christ encouraged his apostle and endorsed his teaching through a night vision; in Ephesus, through signs and wonders by which Christ’s power over disease, demon possession and magic was demonstrated.”


That’s why Paul stayed in Ephesus for upwards to three years.


Now as I said, that whole discussion on Paul’s time in Ephesus and Corinth was something of a parenthesis within our greater focus for this morning. Our passage more keenly shows us how our Lord Jesus overcomes three troublesome obstacles to his glory and kingdom—trouble with the Jews, trouble with the exorcists, and trouble with unbelief. In some ways, I suppose you could say we’ve already seen a hint of Jesus overcoming the trouble with the exorcists—with magicians in Ephesus. But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. 


Back to the Trouble with the Jews

Look again with me at verses 8 and 9. Why did Paul have to change venues from the synagogue to the hall of Tyrannus, after his fist three months in Ephesus? Verse 8—


And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. 9 But when some became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus.


This is such a realistic picture of ministry. Paul had spent three months in the synagogue “reasoning and persuading” with unmistakable proofs and indisputable arguments that Jesus is the Messiah and savior which the Old Testament promised, and he was met with an ever-simmering and increasing stubbornness. The verb, there in verse 9, says “when some became stubborn”, and then “continued in unbelief”. There’s a progression, there, folks. Perhaps they started out interested and open to reason with Paul. Perhaps they were even hopeful—“had the Messiah really come?”. Yet they stumbled as Paul explained not only that the Messiah came, but what sort of Messiah he was. They wanted the Jewish throne to overthrow the Roman throne. They wanted another golden age of Judaism. A crucified, risen, and ascended Messiah who conquers hearts rather than thrones just didn’t float their boat.


The fact that verse 9 describes them as “becoming stubborn” is reminiscent to how God described the Jews in the Old Testament. This is not just a description of the Jews in this passage. It’s a rebuke. In the wilderness, the Lord called Israel a “stiff-necked” people, like a stubborn donkey who won’t turn its neck in order to follow its master to food and water. Here, the story of Acts is telling us that these Jews in this synagogue were no different. Paul was giving them the Messiah—salvation, life, and blessings, and they wouldn’t bend their neck. That’s how far too many respond to the gospel of God’s free grace. It reminds me of Hebrews 3, citing Psalm 95 as a warning to us who have come to believe in Jesus. “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your heart as in the day of the rebellion”. If you do, you’ll never enjoy the blessings of the promised land. You’ll never enter God’s rest, peace, and joy. You’ll waste away in your sin, and under God’s wrath forever. The author of Hebrews continues in chapter 3, there—


Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.


We are responsible to one another, to ensure that we will all enter God’s rest together. Confess sins, keep you hope and faith vibrant with big ambitions because we serve a big God who overcomes big evils, and offers a big rest. 


As Paul was proclaiming Jesus’s rest and salvation in the synagogue, these Jews didn’t want it. They didn’t simply say, “nah, it’s not for me”. They took up the devil’s work of slander and destruction. Verse 9 says that “when some became stubborn and continued in unbelief” they then spoke “evil of the Way before the congregation”. We don’t know what they said—we only know that it was “evil”, or “malignant” (NIV), and that it was public. It was “before the congregation”. I hardly doubt this was simply a matter of “disputing Paul”, here. I trust that such disputing and arguing from the Scriptures is what occupied their time with Paul for the previous three months. However, as Paul’s arguments began to win some over to the faith, and they couldn’t stand against Paul’s arguments, they resorted to unreasonable lies and slander. It’s all they could do. That’s what stubborn people do, when they’ve buried their heads in sin and unbelief.


Perhaps you’ve been there. Perhaps you’re there, today—you’re wrestling God. You know he’s right, and that he’s calling you out to the light. You simply won’t do it—you don’t like what it might mean. It can be humiliating, especially when it’s not just between you and God, but between you and your spouse, or family, or friends, or coworkers. You fight God—and in the worst situations, you begin to resort to unreasonable lies just to cover up God’s spirit of conviction. You become irritable and unpleasant. It’s hard to keep a stiff neck when God is troubling your conscience. Don’t resist him. Enter his rest, by faith, as he’s offering forgiveness through Jesus.


Now in our story, can Jesus overcome this stubbornness, and this sort of slander? The folks in the synagogue don’t soften up. What happens when we don’t loosen up—what does God do? He leaves, and goes elsewhere. He leaves, and advances his kingdom through other means. That’s what Jesus did through Paul, in our story. Paul simply picked up shop—the congregation of new believers with him—and he went to the “hall of Tyrannus”. We don’t know much about that hall, other than it was probably a secular academic hall of sorts. He lectured daily—and what happened? Verse 10, “all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks”. Jews heard, and believed, and Greeks. Slander and stubborn hearts aren’t an obstacle for Jesus. As Jesus himself said to a bunch of Jews in John 10:16, “Other sheep I have, which are not of this [Jewish] fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.”


So, the trouble with the Jews wasn’t too much trouble for Jesus to handle. Jesus opened wide a door for Paul to witness his power and salvation for two years, such that all of Asia heard and witnessed his saving power. Even handkerchiefs worn by Paul brought relief to people far away, under the banner of Christ’s kingdom.


Now, what about the trouble with the exorcists? I know you’re all eager to get to that awesome story. Let’s go there, now.


The Trouble with the Exorcists

I already mentioned that there was a strong presence of the occult—of magic and spiritism—in Ephesus. That’s culturally the background for this whole story—except, it may be helpful to point out that a Jewish community had already been present in Ephesus at this time for over three centuries. So, over that time, the Jewish community slowly became a hybrid of Judaism and the pagan occult. These Jewish exorcists did their work as a Jewish counter-part to the pagan magicians, who used their magic to ward off evil spirits. 


Now, here’s the big question at play. What’s the difference between magic and miracles? I’m reminded of a brief discussion that happened in C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series. If you’re familiar with the Narnia stories, you’ll know that Narnia was another world of magic that certain little children would unexpectedly find themselves in. It’s a real world, with real magic—and there, it would seem that “God” went by a different name. He appears as a lion named Aslan.


At the beginning of one of these stories, a boy named Eustice wanted to take one of his friends back to Narnia with him. His friend suggested a way back—“You mean we might draw a circle on the ground—and write in queer letters in it—and stand inside it—and recite charms and spell?” Eustice replied at this juncture, “well… I believe that was the sort of thing I was thinking of, though I never did it. But now that it comes to the point, I’ve an idea that all those circles and things are rather [rotten]. I don’t think he’d [Aslan] like them. It would look as if we thought we could make him do things. But really, we can only ask him.”


That’s about right. That’s what we’re talking about here, in this story. These exorcists are nothing less than magicians—prideful people who try to manipulate Jesus, and his name. Then, there’s Paul who obeys Jesus, and humbly requests things in his name. This is a matter of who is in control—and as we see in the story, even the evil spirits know who is in control. 


The Seven Scam-Artists of Sceva

Now, we don’t know exactly who “the sons of Sceva” were, except that they were supposedly seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva. This isn’t referring to the high priest in Jerusalem. It’s probably referring to a chief priest, of sorts—and, these sons probably used their family reputation in religious affairs in order to strengthen their reputation in the occult. In a place like Ephesus, it would have made a lot of sense for seven sons who grew up around religious affairs to know their way around divine names and powers. So, these seven sons Sceva used their family heritage to present a façade of credibility. That’s what false teachers and scam artists do. They appeal to external credentials to establish themselves. They appeal to numbers, to irrelevant credentials, “speaking the language and religion of the people”, among a host of other things that our world seems to be impressed with.


Paul, on the contrary, sought credibility in his ministry with a very different approach. Instead of asking for money, he worked as a tentmaker. Instead of appealing to his academic credentials, he said that such things were “rubbish”, if only he would know Christ. Instead of using lofty and academic arguments, he sought to “know nothing” among his listeners “except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:1–2). Beyond this, he trusted that God himself would confirm his message. Again, that was a huge reason why God did all those miracles through Paul and Paul’s handkerchiefs. God was telling the people of Ephesus that Paul’s message was true, and that Paul’s God contained true power and salvation.


God’s Message in this Story: He Requires Full Allegiance 

Indeed, God was telling the Ephesians that Jesus is the only power and salvation that can deliver them from their sin and misery. As this centuries-old Jewish community in Ephesus mingled with the Ephesian occult, it seems that Paul was largely dealing with a Jewish and Ephesian people who affirmed many gods, and many powers to save. The whole occult was built upon people who knew their ways around the divine names. Appeal to this name with this kind of demon, or that other divine name for that kind of sickness. You see that impulse with these Jewish exorcists. They see Paul casting out demons in Jesus’s name, so they presume Jesus to be another god to be used for their business. Jesus’s name is another tool in their toolbelt, right alongside Artemis or Athena, or whatever sort of divine names they might appeal to.


Look at verse 13. We’re told that they “undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.’”. You can almost hear their experiment, there, in how the distance themselves from Jesus. Jesus isn’t their God. He’s the name that Paul proclaims, and now they’re trying to harness this name for their own purposes.


Verse 15–16 tell us quite clearly what happened. “But the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?’ 16 And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.”. 


It’s a shocking story, and it’s funny enough as is. Yet, if you ever wondered if demons had a certain wit and cleverness to them, you can see that they do in this story. “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?”. That was clever—and, it takes a certain understanding in 1st century exorcism practices to see exactly what’s going on, here. One commentator said this, “This question of the demon is a clever reversal of the normal procedure where the demon is asked to name itself before it is driven out (see, e.g., Mark 5:9). These exorcists are not known by name and so are themselves exorcised”. It’s clever. The demon is not only acknowledging the power of Paul and Jesus, but it’s pointing out these men are themselves powerless, and about to be exorcised. They must name themselves, before they’re man-handled and driven out of the venue without clothing.


It reminds me of that famous line often attributed to Shakespeare, “I would challenge you to a battle of wits, but I see that you are unarmed!”. This demon begins with a painful jest, and then it proceeds to force the men out of their physical clothing. It’s an exorcism of it’s own!


Yet, it all happened under Jesus’s sovereign plan and rule. It all served Jesus’s kingdom rather than Satan’s—to the dismay of both these exorcists and the evil spirit. Verse 17, 


17 And this became known to all the residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks. And fear fell upon them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled.


The name of the Lord Jesus—his name, and his sovereignty—was extolled. People were overcome with fear, and they turned to Jesus to extol his name. They feared his name.


You’d actually think that fear of the demons would come upon everyone, wouldn’t you? If that story stood alone, it might seem like someone appealed to Jesus’s name, and the demon tore the person up. Jesus’s name had no effect. Yet, that’s what was so terrifying. Jesus’s name had no effect for them, for these Jews who didn’t revere Jesus. Everyone knew very well that Jesus’s name had extraordinary, unchallenged power over demons and sicknesses in Paul’s hand—a man who was radically committed to Jesus. Yet, it was dangerous to appeal to Jesus with irreverence, while holding onto a certain loyalty to other gods and loyalties in life.


Jesus demands whole-hearted allegiance, folks, and I think this event made it clear to everyone in Ephesus. Jesus is powerful—his name is a refuge from demons, sickness, sin, guilt, and so many more miseries of this life. However, that’s only true of you serve and love only him, as Paul did. If you seek to add Jesus to the list of other things that bring you comfort or meaning in life, his name is dangerous. It’ll destroy you, and lead you directly to the pit of hell under the demonic power which you were born under. Ephesians 2:1–4 has something to say about that.


So, we’ve seen Jesus overcome the trouble with the slanderous and hard-hearted Jews. Their hardness of heart drove Paul to the hall of Tyrannus, such that “all the residents of Asia heard the word”. 


Now, we’ve seen Jesus overcome the trouble with the exorcists, and the demons. That whole event struck fear in everyone. If you want Paul’s power, you need to whole-heartedly commit yourself to Paul’s message of salvation through Paul’s Jesus. It’s all or nothing.


This, of course, brings us to the last trouble—the greatest trouble—that Jesus overcomes: the trouble with unbelief.


The Trouble with Unbelief

Jesus has a powerful effect on people, folks. He demands 100% allegiance, and he works 100% allegiance into the hearts of his people. This sort of stuff doesn’t come out of thin air. Life-long scholars in the university don’t just say, “boy, I’m really convicted, so I’m going to burn my entire library”. We’re talking about people’s livelihoods, here. Yet, that’s what happened—and, it happened to a whole host of people. Verse 18, 


18 Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. 19 And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver. 20 So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily.


Fifty thousand pieces of silver. A day’s wage was a piece of silver, folks. This is a lot of money, burned—upwards to 150 years’ worth of wages. Jesus is worth it.


Here, these magicians recognized that there was absolutely nothing redeemable about their magical spell-books or occult practices. It’d be spreading wickedness to sell these books for further use by another. It’s all rotten to the core, and Jesus offers a far better salvation, a far better peace and rest from all misery. He’s worth whatever he asks of us in our repentance and faith. 


Truth be told, he gave up far more than we could give up ourselves. He emptied himself of infinite glory with the father, to take on human flesh. He lived through all the miseries that are common to mankind, yet without sin. He died at the cross, even taking upon himself God’s infinite wrath against our sins, that we might be forgiven and rest in his fellowship and joy. That’s what Paul proclaimed. That’s the name of Jesus that Paul heralded, and which these Ephesian magicians desired more than anything else. Through this whole chain of events—Paul’s preaching for two years at the hall of Tyrannus, the extraordinary miracles, and the terrifying demonstration through the Jewish exorcists that Jesus demands full allegiance—Jesus was pleased to rest his Spirit upon hardened hearts, and soften them that they might receive his forgiveness and fellowship through a genuine (but radical) faith and repentance.



Jesus overcomes all obstacles, and turns his enemies’ plans against them. The trouble with the Jews, with the exorcists, and with the unbelieving Ephesians were no match for him. His kingdom will conquer, and his name will be revered. May it be so with us. Let’s pray. 

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